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Community effort joins move against area's crime, apathy

Problem-plagued Childs Park is the target for programs that seek to help at-risk teenagers resist involvement in crime and bad behavior.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG- A new initiative to help combat youth crimes in Childs Park will rely heavily on community support, as opposed to government spending, community leaders said Thursday.

In a year when many nonprofit organizations aimed at helping at-risk teenagers lost funding because of state-mandated budget cuts, community leaders said it is time for mothers and fathers, neighbors, church organizers and young people to help themselves.

The plan will lean heavily on youth athletic programs and community events designed to keep at-risk teenagers off the streets and motivate them to stay away from the culture of violence that has contributed to recent homicides, drug dealing and street fights in Childs Park. The area is long reputed to have the highest rate of youth violence in the city, partly because it also has a high percentage of young residents.

Founders of the plan announced the initiative at a press conference Thursday at the Childs Park Recreation Center.

The effort has the support of St. Petersburg police, city of St. Petersburg, Council of Neighborhood Associations, Live Free Coalition, and People Advocating Change Together, as well as area pastors, business owners, and athletic leagues.

"Each one of us can do a little bit to help and make this a success story," said Barbara Heck, president of CONA.

Gypsy Gallardo, a founder of the community group People Advocating Change Together, said she wasn't very upset when the city cut off funding to several nonprofits that benefit minority youths earlier this summer.

"That forced us to look at the community as a solution," she said.

As part of the effort, organizers will host a basketball tournament and talent show in January to rally support.

Youth will be able to practice for both events in the weeks leading up to what organizers are calling the Slamm & Jamm Mega Block Party.

Athletic leagues in the area have also agreed to hold open enrollment, so that teenagers can sign up for their programs at any time.

Volunteers will begin knocking on every door in Childs Park educating residents about the program starting on Nov. 17.

Still, it is unclear just how much of a difference another youth program can make in Childs Park.

There are already several youth community centers in the area, but Childs Park's reputation as a drug hub has only continued to grow, according to the Police Department, which frequently targets drug dealers in the area.

Despite the onslaught of violent crimes in the area, community leaders said they have to remain optimistic.

"What do you do when you've tried all you can do and you want to give up?" said Eric Green, founder of Everyone's Youth United, a youth community center in Childs Park. "You try something different."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

What's planned

Community leaders announced last week a new initiative to get at-risk teenagers off the street. The program will consist of:

Door to door outreach: More than 100 volunteers will canvass nearly 3,000 households on Nov. 17 to educate them about the effort.

The Slamm and Jamm Mega Block Party: A community gathering in January that will help raise awareness.

A basketball tournament: Up to 100 men will join four teams competing in two runoff games leading up to a championship game at the block party in January.

Youth Talent Jamm: Practice for the talent show will be held during the six weeks leading up to the block party.

[Last modified November 10, 2007, 21:53:39]


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